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I just returned from the great state of Massachusetts where, contrary to predictions, Provincetown has not fallen off into the sea; there were no pillars of salt lingering on Commercial street; and heterosexual married couples were doing just fine (some even vacationing with their children in that bastion of homosexual hedonism – Provincetown during family week).
It was a pleasant break and provided the opportunity for me to interact with members of the gay community who were closer to having full equal rights than my sisters and brothers back home in Michigan.
One of the topics of discussion was health care reform. In Massachusetts, they have a more or less mandated health care plan covering everyone. I met a number of people who were living on the fixed income of retirement who told me how this had drastically improved the quality of their lives. Instead of paying over $500 per month for health care insurance and deciding each month between their prescriptions and groceries, one woman, Anna told me she now pays a premium of $120 and receives reduced or no charge prescriptions.
We all watched the explosive hearings on health care reform being held across the country and all the energy being expended by the Obama administration to get this passed. It appeared our issues – “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” ENDA, DOMA and other LGBT issues – had been pushed to the back burner. As a member of the LGBT community, I am very concerned about these issues. But as an African-American woman who is also gay, I have never been able to afford myself the luxury of being a one-issue activist. For me, it is and has always been about full equality for everyone.
But I hear the voices of many members of our community who have suffered the indignities and brutality of homophobia who call out for action on our issues now? Who demand marriage equality now? Who can no longer tolerate being second class citizens and want full equality now!
I shared in the high hopes that the 2008 elections and inauguration of a president, unafraid to bring our equality to the forefront, would usher in the changes we have been waiting for. Nor was I so naive to believe that our issues would take precedence over the economic turmoil the Obama administration inherited. But I, too, had joined in the chorus of “how long?” and was impatient with the answer: “Not long.”
It’s then that my reality kicks in, reminding me that I do not want to be treated as a second-class American or even a gay American – I am an American, period, wanting only to be judged on the content of my character, not the color of my skin, gender, politics or who I love.
During the (bad) good old days of Michigan’s fight against marriage discrimination, I remember attending a fundraiser in Grosse Pointe. Some attendees had arrived by driving partially down Mack Avenue. They were appalled by the sites they had seen on the Detroit side and amazed how it all disappeared after crossing into Grosse Pointe. For some, this was the “aha!” moment: True equality for one is full equality for all.
Here we are in 2009 and not much has changed. Numbers for HIV/AIDS in Detroit and other poor communities are on the rise, rivaling third world countries. We still have no protection in the workplace or in our communities from firing, harassment and violence. Hate crimes against members of the LGBT community and bullying of LGBT youth in our schools goes on.
So why should we care about health care as part of our gay agenda? Because it is! It is a piece of the redefining of America to be a fully inclusive society where all are entitled to certain “Inalienable rights” – not just those who can afford it.
But it is also the responsibility of power, the power we asserted in influencing not just the 2006 and 2008 elections but the consequences of these elections which include everything from Supreme Court appointments to providing an environment where progressive and civil rights and legislation can see the light of day, be discussed and passed.
The power we must exercise by demanding accountability from our elected officials from the White House to city hall is a power we cannot abdicate saying, “We got you elected now it’s your job.”
A physician, commenting on the healt hcare debate said “… if (Obama’s) health care reform goes down in flames, he will not have enough capital, power, strength to successfully take on DADT or DOMA or UAFA as part of Comprehensive Immigration Reform. And if health care reform goes down the tubes….. you might have to kiss United ENDA good bye for a while, too.”
Although I don’t know what health insurance reform should ultimately look like, I know it must be changed. I have friends both gay and straight relying upon the emergency room for their health care needs; who put off needed medical testing like mammograms, prostate exams, etc. because of the cost; and who, like myself, are paying outrageous amounts for health insurance only to be hit with medical bills not covered because of “pre-existing conditions” or waiting periods.
I believe that we have the power to be the change we want. We elected this president with the hopes of a new day for all Americans. So let’s put our power behind a good health reform bill. Let’s let Obama and all elected officials know we are not a one-issue community. We have the power and will be the catalyst for change, for equality and for the country.